Toilet training can be a daunting task. We may think of “going to the bathroom” as a one step process; yet, it is quite complicated. Children have to be aware of the need to go. They must stop the task in which they are engrossed and deal with the many steps that can be overwhelming for a young body and mind.
Readiness is not tied to chronological age. Some are ready for training at 18 months, and others are not ready until after they turn age 3. Ability and motivation are both needed. Can your child follow simple directions? Can she take off her pants and put them on? Can she manipulate buttons, the toilet seat, and the lights in the room? Does he have the ability to recognize the physical signs that he needs to go, and can he hold it until he is at the toilet?
Having your child watch you use the bathroom is a natural way to have her learn how to appropriately use the toilet. Communicate how you knew it was time to go, and narrate what you are doing step by step. Teach your child the words your family uses for body parts, urine, bowel movements, and bathroom equipment.
It may not be wise to start training during major life changes. Life changes can be stressful; can make children regress; and may be a time when your child needs additional TLC.
Read toilet training books to your children during regular story times and keep the books in the bathroom. Stress the universal aspect of the process.
A relaxed approach is critical. Train when you will have the time and patience. Remain calm when there are setbacks and do not view them as failure; it is part of the process. Note that boys tend to train a bit more slowly than girls, and the second child may master training more quickly than firstborn.
Help your child recognize when they are urinating or having a bowel movement. Communicate what is occurring and emphasize how uncomfortable wet diapers are and how good it feels to be clean and dry.
Some children consider bowel movements as part of them and seeing material disappear down the toilet is terrifying. Ask your son if he can tell you what he is feeling and help assure him that the rest of him will not disappear with it. Have him practice flushing safe items down the toilet.
Have an Underwear Weekend when you do not have outside obligations. Explain that for the entire weekend, your child will wear underwear. If your child does well with it, you can continue; if not, you can wait a bit. Another option is to put your child on the toilet every 15 minutes for a few hours at a time, and at the end of the session, put a diaper back on.
Later on, have another session. A few days later, attempt a full-day session. Consider setting up a reward system. Offer a sticker, a hand stamp, or small prizes for successful potty attempts. Parents can take children to the dollar store to choose meaningful prizes and bigger prizes for bigger successes such as a full day of staying dry. During training, make sure children are wearing easy to remove clothing.
Graziella Simonetti is a parent educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as a social worker for the NYC Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed parenting educator.